AN: This is inspired by A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, as well as DiC's Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century.
By The Lady Razorsharp
He awoke in his chair at the table in his attic study. The stiffness in his shoulders and the numbness in his feet told him he had been there for some hours, as did the ragged-edged blob of ink on the paper from the pen still clutched in his gnarled, bee-stung hand.
He laid the pen down, and then slowly pushed away from the table. He reached for the canes propped against the table at his right hand, groaning softly against the protest of taut back muscles. By sheer force of will, he moved his feet in their worn brogues, and slowly his toes tingled back into life.
He sat calmly as his body reoriented itself, his canes laid across his lap as he listened to the quiet. He placed the hour between two and three in the morning, since neither his housekeeper nor the rooster down the lane were yet stirring.
After a few minutes, he took the canes in his hands and pushed himself upright. Carefully, he lowered himself step by step down the attic stairs, which brought him to his bedroom door. He pushed open the door and stepped into the room, and stood for a moment considering the narrow bed. Going through the ritual of changing into nightclothes and fully retiring would encourage his body to sleep his full seven-and-a-half hours, and that would mean missing his morning rounds at the hives. Instead, he removed his shoes and settled himself on top of the quilt, and then pulled the extra quilt from the foot of the bed and spread the patchwork fabric over himself. He laid his canes on the bed next to him, and settled back for a few hours' nap.
Some time later, he heard the voice of his housekeeper as if from far away. She seemed to be calling his name urgently, her tone strident and plaintive, but it was too much effort to drag himself up from the depths of sleep. He was so comfortable here, so warm and blessedly pain-free, and he turned inward into the welcoming, velvety darkness.
He dreamt then—dreamt of Baker Street and the Downs, Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade, Mycroft and Irene Adler, his mother and father. Once again, he and Watson were at Reichenbach, looking down at the raw power and terrible beauty of the falls. Once more, he watched as Watson turned away on a fool's errand, and again saw the sinister figure of Professor Moriarty on the footbridge, blocking the path to safety.
He grappled with Moriarty there on that granite cliff, each gaining the upper hand in turn and then losing it only to be nearly overpowered by the other. His body sang with adrenaline even as his mind screamed a warning, and the combatants drew ever closer to the edge of the chasm.
Suddenly, the wet ground beneath their feet shuddered and gave way. He caught a glimpse of Moriarty's face—a horrible mask of rage and mortal terror—and then he was falling.
As the air rushed past him, he raised his eyes to the crystal blue sky dotted with snow-white clouds above the rim of the black granite falls, and waited for the bone-shattering impact and the shock of the icy water to claim him.
To his unending surprise, the water swallowed him silently into viscous depths that were not freezing, but pleasantly warm. The warmth ebbed away the confusion and panic, and he followed the insistent, yet gentle command that sounded a soothing chime within his mind: Don't be afraid. Sleep now.
He slept and did not dream again.
Light buffeted his aching eyes, and he slowly opened them to see a world tinted yellow-green. He blinked slowly, but the view did not change, except when it was obstructed by long, undulating plumes of bubbles. He was still pleasantly warm but felt oddly weightless, and finally the pieces clicked: He was submerged in a vat of liquid, like a specimen in an oversized beaker. Strangely enough, he noted that despite his immersion in the curious liquid, he was breathing cool, sweet, slightly medicinal-tasting air from a transparent dome tethered over his mouth and nose.
His brain felt sluggish and his tongue was much too thick for his mouth. Trying to focus his vision on the shadowy shapes beyond the bubbles gave him a dreadful headache, and there was something in his throat that, though not painful, made speech impossible. Moving his gaze from side to side revealed that his arms and hands were bare. The gentle brush of cloth against his thighs told him he was clad in a garment that resembled swimming trunks, further proven by his bare feet, which he glimpsed as he rocked gently to and fro in the chartreuse liquid.
Before his brain could register more than mild surprise at both his surroundings and his state of undress, movement outside the field of bubbles drew his attention. Just beyond his toes, a person—a woman—stood looking up at him through the glass, and immediately his powers of observation shifted into gear.
She was an attractive young woman, no more than thirty years of age, with straight, thick hair parted slightly off center and cut short just below her chin. Her hair—no doubt of some medium neutral hue, since he was certain that the tint of his surroundings distorted color—framed her plain, strong-jawed face, and there was something about her eyes and long, sharp nose that stirred a fleeting memory. The woman was clad in a short, form fitting tunic decorated with a Union Jack on her left sleeve and an insignia bearing the letters NSY on the right, and trousers of skin-tight cloth revealed the well-developed muscles in her legs. A shield-shaped medallion hung from a stout cord around her neck. As she stared up at him, her dark brows furrowed and her full lips moved; she was talking, though the glass barrier prevented him from hearing her.
He forced his head forward a fraction of an inch and smiled down into her upturned face.
The woman's eyes widened in astonishment, and she stood immobile for a few heartbeats. Finally, she broke into a wide grin and turned away to say something over her shoulder, then came back to face him. She pressed her gloved palms against the glass, wonder and joy and triumph in her face.
Her lips moved again, only this time they formed a solitary word: Sherlock.
His deductive efforts had exhausted him, and he merely favored her with another faint smile before slipping back into the warm darkness.
The man suspended in the regenerating tank had been mourned twice by the world.
The first time it had been his idea to come back from the dead. Now he was going to come back from the dead whether he wanted to or not.
Inspector Beth Lestrade of New Scotland Yard tipped her forehead against the glass and watched as the body of Sherlock Holmes floated gently on the tide of the regenerative serum. The oxygen hose swayed like an otherworldly leash, tethering him to life as the fluid did its work of stimulating new cell growth in flesh long since gone inactive.
"What did you say this stuff was, Dr. Hargreaves?" she asked, not taking her eyes from the figure beyond the glass.
"It's a viscous protein-rich compound I formulated after nearly thirty years of research," the scientist enthused, only too happy to discourse on the subject of his life's work. "In fact, Mr. Holmes' notes on the life-extending properties of royal jelly as well as the extract of the prickly ash plant were most helpful in my research, and—"
Lestrade turned to fix him with a raised eyebrow and a wry smile. "So, Doc, what you're saying is that this is some sort of magic snot."
The scientist chuckled. "Yes, Inspector. That's exactly what it is."
"I thought so."
In truth, Hargreaves had explained the reanimation process to her weeks ago, when they found the sealed coffin-like box deep within the bowels of New Scotland Yard, but frankly, listening to the scientist rattle on about mitochondria and cell mitosis was about as stimulating as watching paint dry.
Besides, it made her sad to think that Sherlock Holmes, like every normal person, had gotten old and died in his sleep at the age of 95. Heroes weren't supposed to get old, she mused. They were supposed to ride off into the sunset—or go over a waterfall, locked in a struggle to the death with their worst enemy, not go to sleep in their own bed and be found by their housekeeper.
She still didn't quite know how she'd managed to talk Chief Greyson into letting her do it. All she'd said was that Sherlock was simply the best man for the job. Perhaps it was because the citizens of New London were demanding that the Yard put a stop to the crime wave plaguing the city, but Greyson acquiesced with minimal kicking and screaming. Well, truth be told, there had been a lot of screaming on Greyson's part, but that was standard operating procedure for the Chief.
Deep down, Lestrade knew that there was another reason why she had defied the Yard and hatched the harebrained plot of reanimating Sherlock Holmes to catch an enemy that might or might not be a reanimated Professor James Moriarty. If the guy running around calling himself 'Moriarty' was just a copycat, there was a good chance she could round up the best blokes in the Yard and take him down; after all, she knew the Holmes stories backwards and forwards, and had made a meticulous study of her many-times-great Grandfather Lestrade's personal notes of cases he had worked with the great detective. No, she thought, tracing an invisible SH on the glass with one gloved fingertip, this was personal.
The world needed a hero. And she—with a little help from Hargreaves and his 'magic snot'—was going to give them one.
Are you sure it's not you who needs the hero, Elizabeth? said a voice that sounded suspiciously like her mother.
"We all need heroes, Mom," she breathed, her words bouncing back to her from the warm glass.
She tipped her head back to watch Holmes' face; sometimes his eyelids would flicker and she would hold her breath, though Hargreaves had told her it was merely REM sleep.
This time, Holmes' eyes were open, and they were staring down at her—not blankly, but with a genuine spark behind them. Her stomach did a dizzying series of back flips.
"Dr. Hargreaves!" She turned to shout over her shoulder. "Dr. Hargreaves, I think we've got him!"
She wanted to laugh and cry all at once, but settled for a big silly grin. She pressed her palms against the glass.
Sherlock, she mouthed, her eyes filling with unbidden tears.
The corners of his mouth lifted the barest inch; he understood. Then his eyes fluttered shut, and his face relaxed into sleep once more.
A week later, Hargreaves moved Holmes from the regenerative serum tank to a sterile hospital room. Once again, Lestrade watched from behind a glass barrier, only this time it was a large bank of one-way observation mirrors.
"When do you think he'll wake up?" Lestrade swallowed the last of her fifth cup of coffee for that morning, but it wasn't the caffeine that fueled the restless tapping of her booted foot against the carpeted floor.
"You've got to cultivate patience, Inspector." Hargreaves' disembodied voice echoed from inside his clean suit as he examined the sleeping detective. "Beyond that brief moment you witnessed last week, he hasn't regained consciousness." The scientist peeled back one of Holmes's slack eyelids and checked the pupil with a penlight.
Lestrade crushed the cup in her gloved fist. "What you're really saying is that there's a chance he might not wake up," she said darkly.
"You said it yourself, Inspector—this process is experimental." Hargreaves replaced the penlight in his labcoat pocket and faced the one-way mirror. "There's always the chance that he will either remain in this state, or that he'll wake and be nothing but a blank wall, an empty shell."
Her throat felt tight all of a sudden, and she toyed with the lanyard on her badge. "And what happens then?"
Hargreaves picked up Holmes' long, slack left hand, turning the wrist over to examine the smooth and unblemished skin that had replaced a battlefield of scar tissue. "Then we'll do the decent thing, Lestrade. We'll return Sherlock Holmes to his well-deserved rest."
Anger boiled up inside of Lestrade, and she kicked the chair in front of her. "Damnit, Hargreaves, he's not a dog or a horse you can just take out in the back and shoot! He's a human being, for crying out loud!"
"I'm not disputing the fact that he's a human being, Inspector; that was all sorted out by a special session of Parliament many years before you were born. The Cloning and Regeneration Act of 2055 stipulates that 'all persons cloned or utilizing parts of original or donated organs or bodies must be treated with the same consideration—"
"—As persons who have not been so altered.' Yeah, yeah, every school kid knows that." Lestrade dragged the much-abused chair toward her with an expert flick of her booted toe, then propped her right foot on the seat. "But every school kid knows the back half of that Act, too—'If the cloned individual is mentally absent or experiences intense emotional or physical suffering due to the procedure, the individual or an appointed agent may request that the existence be ended with dignity and peace.'"
"It's the law, Inspector."
Lestrade folded her arms over her badge and scowled.
"Mr. Holmes may not thank you for bringing him forward in time," Hargreaves went on. "Everything he knows is gone. The world has reinvented itself time and again, while he lay oblivious to it all." The scientist turned to face Lestrade, who blanched but did not look away. "You're responsible for him. Would you sign your name to the order that would give him release?"
The thought made Lestrade queasy. If Holmes—or if he were mentally absent, Lestrade, acting as his 'agent'—could show proof that his quality of life was severely restricted, he would then be taken to a state facility and be pumped full of chemicals that would put him to sleep and stop his heart. After three minutes, his brain would shut down and he would die, and more chemicals would be pumped in to ensure that no amount of magic goop would bring him back. She was suddenly glad that the spaceship collision that had claimed the lives of her parents ten years before had rendered such a question academic in their case; there hadn't been enough left of them to extract DNA to clone, much less reanimate them.
Now, however, as she looked at the man sleeping just beyond her reach, she felt she knew the answer. She stood and looked Hargreaves in the eye.
"Yes, I'd do it—if that's what had to be done."
Hargreaves smiled at her through his face shield. "I know you would." He cast a glance back at Holmes and nodded in approval. "However, I don't believe we'll need to revisit this conversation any time soon. Mr. Holmes' color is good and his physiological responses look promising, so I believe we have a very good chance of success."
In fact, Holmes improved so much and so rapidly that two days later, Hargreaves lifted the clean-room restrictions and let Lestrade in for a five-minute visit.
"It will do him good to be exposed to our atmosphere in short intervals," Hargreaves had elaborated as Lestrade fidgeted with her badge lanyard. "He needs to fine-tune his immune system, and I'm sure the residue of New London that resides on your uniform will do nicely."
Lestrade brushed invisible lint from the front of her uniform jacket. "But—I just got it back from the cleaners this morning!" she protested. "It can't be that dirty already."
Hargreaves smiled. "Trust me, my dear Inspector, it'll be more than adequate for our purposes. In you go, now."
Feeling like Typhoid Mary, Lestrade walked into Holmes' room and stopped short at the foot of the bed. "Uh…what do I say?" she asked, knowing that Hargreaves would be watching through the one-way mirror.
"Just talk to him," Hargreaves replied, his voice a little tinny from the speaker. "Introduce yourself. Tell him how much you've admired his work all these years. Catch him up on the latest Yard gossip." The scientist chuckled. "He won't be the snappiest conversationalist, but he'll hear you. Sooner or later, he'll follow your voice all the way to consciousness."
"Oh." Lestrade swallowed; she hadn't thought of it like that. "Okay. Uh—Hi, Mr. Holmes." She gave a little wave, then snorted and ran a gloved hand through her hair. "Boy, I feel really stupid right now."
He slept on, oblivious, and for the moment she was very grateful.
"Mind if I sit down?" She grabbed the chair next to the bed, turned it around and straddled it. "Well, I guess I should introduce myself. I'm Inspector Beth—Elizabeth, really, but my friends call me Beth—Lestrade, of New Scotland Yard." She held up a hand. "Before you ask, yes, I'm related to that Lestrade. My dad was from London and my mom was from America. I grew up in America, so that's why I don't have an accent. I was born in San Angeles, California, in June of 2074…"
The five minutes were up very quickly, and the next day Holmes graduated to a ten-minute exposure to Lestrade's germs and conversation. The day after, however, she balked at Hargreaves' next task.
"You want me to what?" Lestrade blustered, incredulous.
"His brainwaves show that he's responding well to your voice," Hargreaves explained, showing her the rolls of flimsiplast printed with Holmes' EEG. "Now we want to reintroduce him to tactile sensation."
"Have you ever read the stories, Doc? He wasn't exactly a touchy-feely guy, you know."
"Nevertheless," Hargreaves said firmly, "he needs to relearn how to manage sensation, otherwise when he wakes up it will all come tumbling in on him and he won't be able to sort it out. Imagine your uniform feeling like sandpaper or pinpricks because your brain can't tell the difference! Remember, we basically rebuilt his nervous system from scratch."
Lestrade sighed explosively. "Fine, fine, I'll do it." She pointed a finger at the unconscious form lying on the bed. "You better be worth all this trouble, Mr. Sherlock Holmes!"
"Hi, Holmes. It's me, Lestrade." She sat down next to him and watched him sleep for a few moments, letting her gaze drift from the dishwater-blond hair down to the pale lashes fanned on his high cheekbones, and then down to the aquiline nose and the tapered chin. His skin was pale peach, unlined and smooth where it sloped down into the collar of his hospital gown. She remembered what Hargreaves had said weeks before; physically, Sherlock Holmes was thirty-one years old—thirty-one, going on two hundred. She had been surprised to find that his hair was indeed blonde and his eyes were sapphire blue—apparently the illustrator's brother was the one with dark hair and grey eyes, and Watson had went along with the image to try and shield Holmes from over-zealous fans.
Now Lestrade pulled out the soft-bristled baby brush that Hargreaves had given her, and she toyed with it for a moment. "Doc says I'm supposed to help you, Holmes," she ventured softly. "I hope you won't be mad at me, but it's for your own good…I guess." She wet her lips nervously, putting aside the brush long enough to pull off her gloves. "Here goes."
After stowing the gloves in the cargo pocket on her left thigh, she slowly reached for Holmes' slack left hand. Taking the brush in her right hand and his hand in her left, she gently drew the brush against the back of his hand from wrist to fingertip. Her eyes darted to his face, but his eyes remained closed and his body showed no signs of tension. "Let's go again," she murmured, and repeated the action. Again, there was no response, and she sighed.
For the next hour, Lestrade followed Hargreaves' instructions and plied the brush to Holmes' hands, to his shoulders, to the soles of his feet, to the sides of his face. Then on impulse, she put aside the brush and stroked his hair, sifting the fine, wavy strands through her fingers.
"It's okay, Holmes," she whispered. "Come back to us when you want to."
A noise and a slight tremor of movement woke Lestrade from a sound sleep. She raised her head to find Holmes trying to sit up, his mouth working soundlessly and his brows knitted in confusion.
"Dr. Hargreaves!" Lestrade shouted, and then turned her attention to the struggling figure. "Hey, slow down, you're all right!" She touched his shoulders, remembering a fraction of a second too late that her gloves were in her pocket, and he froze.
His eyes were so incredibly blue that it took her breath away. He blinked at her in confusion, every line of his lean frame screaming: What the deuce is going on here?
"Sherlock Holmes?" Lestrade ventured, in a voice she barely recognized as her own.
"At…your…service," he replied, in a voice hoarse with over a century of disuse.
Lestrade seized his hands in hers, and this time he did not recoil. "Inspector Lestrade, New Scotland Yard. Welcome to the 22nd century!"